Type A essay (25 marks): For what reasons has evolutionary theory been considered to pose such a threat to religious belief?
The nature of the relationship between religion and science as a whole can be seen as either complementary or contradictory depending on personal viewpoints. Many scientists and creationists see this relationship as complementary and as a ‘non over-lapping magistenia’ or as allied fields of inquiry. Whilst more extreme scientific atheists and fundamentalist creationists often view it as completely conflictory. Science and religion have several distinct differences although perhaps the most apparent is that science is concerned with ‘how’ questions and seeking to understand something in terms of its simpler components whereas religion is predominately concerned with ‘why’ questions and seeking to understand something in terms of its purpose. This differences manifest themselves clearly when looking at the multitude of threats that evolutionary theory poses to religious belief.
The theory of evolution is the belief founded by Charles Darwin that all living and extinct species have evolved from simple life forms that existed millions of years ago, therefore meaning that all species are interrelated and are branches on the evolutionary tree of life. Evolution occurs by natural selection, a process whereby organisms with certain characteristics are more likely than others to survive, reproduce and pass on these characteristics. Despite the wide range of scientific evidence that indisputably backs up Darwin’s theory including the infamous studies of the fossil record and genes, many are still offended by the notion of a theory that challenges God as creator.
Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection offers a purely Naturalistic explanation for the origin of complexity and diversity in the natural world. Evidently, this does not directly challenge the existence of God however it does suggest that the God hypothesis is somewhat redundant. Not only does evolution challenge God as creator, it also challenges the notion that humans are a unique and superior creation, a belief that it central and fundamental to Christianity. The theory suggests that human beings are an evolved species and nothing more than another branch of the tree of life (the same as other animals). To quote Darwin, “Man, with all his noble qualities, still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origins”. This idea seems problematic for Christianity as it contradicts biblical teaching about the uniqueness of humanity and also counters the idea that humans were created in God’s likeness.
Another scientific, creationist conflict of opinion lies in their perceived age of the earth. This argument is also relevant when examining the debate between Creationism and the Big Bang Theory. The Book of Genesis 1-3 suggests that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old whereas evolution indicates that the earth is in fact 13.7 billion years in existence. Lastly, the concept of evolution challenges God’s very nature as perceived by Judeo-Christians.